In Winter A Gardener’s Fancy Turns To Ordering Plants


There’s a lot less to do in the garden these days, so I’m thinking more about what I’ll be planting in the spring. I would say these thoughts are about plants that fall into two categories. First, there are plants that are needed to fill some empty niche in the garden. And second, there are plants I just want despite the fact that I have no place to put them.

Bottle Gentian
Bottle Gentian at the  Lurie Garden

Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is in the first category. Seeing how this late-season bloomer performs at Lurie Garden has put me under its spell. Fortunately, I have a good place for it: I intend to mix it in with the Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) in the Sidewalk Border.

The Geranium is looking pretty tired by late summer, which is when Bottle Gentian starts to bloom. And this Gentian should be able to tolerate being shaded a bit by the taller plants at the back of the border.

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) would be in the second category. I don’t need this plant, but I want it. So, I’m probably going to shoehorn it into the back of the aforementioned Sidewalk Border. I’d like to add more blue there, plus I think I’ll really like the contrast in flower shape with the various Monardas that dominate this area during the summer. Also, Blue Vervain is a host for Common Buckeye butterflies.

Pasture Thistle. Photo from Illinois Wildflower Society.


Pasture Thistle (Cirsium discolor) definitely fits into the second category of plants. In fact, I still don’t have the vaguest idea of where I’ll put it. And no, wanting to plant a thistle does not mean I have taken leave of my senses.

Pasture Thistle is a North American thistle that does not spread by rhizomes. Instead, it has a nice, well-behaved taproot. The only place I can find Pasture Thistle for sale is Prairie Moon, and they sell only seeds, no plants. Pasture Thistle is a host for Painted Lady butterflies, and everybody knows that Goldfinches are practically addicted to thistles of all kinds.

Goatsbeard and purple-flowering raspberry
Goatsbeard on the upper left, Purple-Flowering Raspberry on lower left.

For that area where I’m taking out the Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum), I’m thinking either Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) or Purple-Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus). This is a shady spot, so that limits the choices.

Maybe a combination of the two, though Judy is not too fond of Goatsbeard. There’s already some of each in this bed.

There are a few other possibilities I have in mind, but I don’t want to appear greedy.

That’s all for now.

45 Comments on “In Winter A Gardener’s Fancy Turns To Ordering Plants”

  1. Yes, I always dig up the “weedy” thistle plants. They seem to grow EVERYWHERE the following year if I don’t get them before they bloom. I hope you’ll do a follow-up post and let us know how the Prairie Thistle works for you. I believe goldfinches love them!

  2. In my desire to plant more natives, I planted blue vervain last year (2016). This spring, hundreds and hundreds of seedlings from just one plant!! Everywhere! I’m still pulling them out. I don’t remember how tall the tag indicated, but it grew six feet tall. A lovely plant visually, but it might have to go. If you want some, LMK, although I’m not sure a friend passes this plant on. Thug!!

  3. Hey, I want to plant a big patch of teasel in my garden, so when they come to put me in a straightjacket, perhaps we’ll end up neighbors. That’s a beautiful thistle. I’m not a fan of goatsbeard either, so I’m on Judy’s side. Actually I don’t much like Rubus either. I think you should be as greedy as possible when it comes to plants.

  4. It took me a while to plant Pasture Thistle, and this was the year mine bloomed for the first time. It is definitely for the back of the border, but it was a big hit with butterflies, bees (especially bumblebees), and hummingbirds! Hummers were fighting over it. Goldfinches were also more interested in the thistle later than the Anise Hyssop. The golden thistle hairs are beautiful too. It’s a biennial and will move itself around. Now, I only have one for next year telling by the basal foliage in a spot in my garden. I am also a fan of Blue Vervain, but it will seed itself around, which I always find interesting. Once you know what the seedlings look like, it’s pretty easy to pull them up in spots where you don’t want them. I wouldn’t be without it. It’s a narrow plant so will try to fit itself in somewhere and be pretty unnoticeable until those amazing flowers bloom. I plant things pretty densely, so it doesn’t get too much of a foothold anyway. Have you thought of American Bellflower? Another wonderful blue flower. Also a biennial that moves itself around. i love these plants that find surprising places to pop up, sort of a la Thomas Rainer. Bottle Gentian is amazing–I wintersowed them last year and had too many seedlings this year. Easy to propagate.

  5. Greedy? That is an incredibly restrained list by my standards! I generally make plant purchases based on the latter (just want it) more often than the than the former. In fact, that’s one of the benefits of the new border – I finally have a good spot for all those plants that have been piling up in my “want” list.

  6. Yes, gardeners do seem to venture into both of those categories (and others!) regularly, don’t they? I had the same category with Blue Vervain this year. I love this plant, but my shady garden is not the best place for it. Luckily, I found a sunny spot for it after we removed our huge Burning Bush, which was sad but it had to go. The Blue Vervain didn’t get very large this year, but I’m hoping it will make more progress next year.

  7. Hello Jason, I’m afraid that’s not really true for me. I have a large amount of winter clean-up, pruning and mulching to do. I need to gradually chip away at it as if I leave it until spring, there will be too much to do at once. I haven’t made plans for what I want to get done next year but it sounds like you’re already there!

  8. I saw Verbena hastata in the UK just over a year ago and bought seeds but sadly they didn’t germinate; I suspect they were old. If I can get some fresh seeds or a plant it is something I would definitely add to the planting. Armchair gardening and choosing plants is one of the plus sides of the winter season.

  9. I’ve been thinking about thistle for my garden as well. I am hesitant to order plants in pots however, as I discovered I have the invasive Asian (Amynthas spp.) “jumping worm” in my garden. It was positively identified by two sources. We planted 2 good sized Serviceberry trees this spring, had mulch delivered and added plants from mail order and local nursery sources, so who knows where they came from. Bare roots plants would be preferable for those who don’t have this blight.

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